Categories of Bible Literature (I)

Introduction

The Bible is a collection of 66 books that use several different literary forms. A single book of the Bible can contain multiple categories of literature. This week we’ll begin to look at the various literary types and talk about how to interpret each one correctly.

Types of Bible Literature

Here are the major categories, or genres, of Bible literature:

Category Description
Teaching Plain statements about God, people, and their mutual expectations.
History An accurate record of significant past events.
Prophecy God speaking to men through men to comfort, condemn and foretell.
Poetry Draws readers into events and feelings of the writer’s life.
Proverbs Concise observations and advice about life – truth capsules.
Parables Short, simple stories that illustrate spiritual truths.

Each type of biblical literature has a special emphasis and you need a specific approach to interpret it correctly.

Understanding the Bible’s Teaching Passages

The Bible has many teaching passages that make plain doctrinal statements. While all the Bible was written to teach us about God and man, the teaching passages do so in a plain, straightforward way. Here are some examples:

“I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exo 20:2-3)

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mat 6:31-33)

As you can see, these passages tell us who God is, what He expects from us, and what we can expect from Him. Other passages tell us what we can expect from others and how we are to treat them. All this is done in plain, declarative language.

You’ll find teaching in the Old Testament Law, and Romans through Jude in the New Testament. Other books have teaching mixed in with other content.

The Bible’s teaching passages are the first place you should go to discover Bible doctrine. A common mistake among Christians is to base a doctrine on some obscure passage from a different literary category. For example, they’ll build a doctrine about divorce from a parable, while they ignore other plain teaching passages of Scripture.

The methods we have discussed throughout our study together so far will serve you well as you seek to understand the Bible’s teaching passages.

Points to Ponder

In the days ahead, we’ll be considering other types of Bible literature. I’d like you to do a little thinking on your own today about the categories listed above. Try to answer these questions:

  • Why do you think God included different literary types in the Bible? Why wasn’t it all written like the book of Proverbs?
  • Where in the Bible would you expect to find the different categories of Bible literature?
  • What special rules can you think of that would apply to each type of Bible literature?

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